There is growing creativity in certain parts of the airline industry about how to reduce their carbon footprint and emissions problems. Surprisingly, bees are the stars of one highly creative and successful solution.

Václav Havel Airport Prague, Czech Republic, has been recognized for its acclaimed design and aviation in the past, like when it won a Design Award in 1937 at the Paris World Fair, but more recently they shine for an even more unique and coveted award—for honeywon six years running!

Bees are kept at Václav Havel Airport in Prague to monitor the environment. This may seem unusual, but in November 2011 Prague joined other international airports with beekeeping projects that monitor air quality in the surrounding area. They use bees as part of their effort to reduce any negative environmental impact caused by air transportation.

Airports around the world are stepping up their environmental awareness and installing apiaries, from Germany to the USA. The first to do this was Hamburg Airport, Germany, in 1999. Soon after, Frankfurt, Hannover, Munich, Düsseldorf, Dresden, Nuremberg and Leipzig/Halle airports did the same thing. Their success led other countries to jump in, including Malmo Airport, Sweden, Copenhagen, Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport as well as Canada's Toronto Pearson Airport (see short video above). These are some of the busiest places in the world and the last place you would expect to find beehive projects.

Malmo Airport in Sweden was the first to start using the airport apiary as a biological sensor back in 2009, where pollen and honey are analyzed as biomarkers of pollution. They report that each year the levels of polyaromatic hydrocarbons, heavy metals and volatile organic hydrocarbons are considerably lower than the European Union limits.

The largest apiary at any airport in the world is at O’Hare in Chicago, with over a million bees residing in 75 beehives. In May 2011, the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) became the first major US on-airport apiary. They started with 28 hives, and the project was managed by Brenda Palms Barber, who is the founder and chief executive of a non-profit that provides job training to people released recently from prison. O’Hare apiary collects and processes thousands of pounds of honey each year, which it sells in the Terminal 3 Rotunda Farmer’s Market. So if you buy honey there, it is authentic ‘airport honey’!  

Apiaries are just one of many ways international airports are looking at reducing their carbon footprint and emissions. Flying accounts for 4-9% of all global emissions, and since 1990, CO2 emissions from international air travel have increased 83%. This is disproportionately high, and there are more daily flights than ever before, thanks to cheap flights and new and more affluent middle classes in many developing countries. The industry is seeking solutions such as more efficient engines and new fuels. In 2012, for instance, San Diego’s oceanside airport was the first in the USA to install LED runway lights.

Václav Havel Airport currently has seven bee colonies which have about 350,000 bee residents in the summer months. This year the beekeepers harvested nearly 80 kilos of honey from these honeycombs. Unfortunately, the public cannot buy the award-winning honey from Prague Airport because it isn’t intended for commercial sale. It is used as a souvenir for Prague Airport partners, but can be tasted at various public events.

The annual Czech Honey Competition is held by the Beekeeping Research Institute (VÚV) in Dol, Central Bohemia. The competition had 360 samples entered. The airport sample a 100% rating, which is the highest possible rating. The Honey is analyzed by VÚV’s accredited laboratory, and four areas of criteria are considered: physical and chemical properties, mandatory data on the label, overall aesthetic impression and correct labeling which includes additional data.

This year’s Gold Medal is for the airport’s flower honey. Prague Airport, which operates Václav Havel Airport Prague, gives the airport beekeepers all the credit, referring to their exemplary professional beekeeping care.

Honey is a secondary benefit from having beehives at Prague airport. The main reason the bees are there is to help monitor environmental pollution around the airport. The director of Environmental Protection of Prague Airport says that they obtain valuable data on possible environmental pollution in the area by doing a chemical analysis of the honeycomb pollen, thanks to the fact the bees buzz around gardens and parks within a few kilometers of the airport to pollinate flowering plants.

These samples of honeycomb pollen and honey are sent for bio-monitoring to the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague (VŠCHT Praha), which is an accredited laboratory. They undergo analysis of the content, looking for heavy metals, organic substances or polyaromatic hydrocarbons. The analyses in recent years confirm good air quality around the airport.

According to the public information available, bees seem to like living at airports and the noise doesn’t bother them. The beehives are usually positioned a few miles from any runways. This seems like a win-win situation.

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